(Reuters) – News that the United States may soon send rockets that nearly double the range of Ukrainian forces gave a big lift to Kiev on Wednesday, even as its troops were being repulsed by a relentless Russian winter offensive in the east.
In the capital Kiev, authorities raided the home of one of Ukraine’s most prominent billionaires and a former interior minister, the boldest action so far in a wartime anti-corruption campaign launched last week by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Two U.S. officials said a new $2 billion military aid package to be announced this week would include for the first time ground-launched small-diameter bombs (GLSDB), a new weapon designed by Boeing.
The glider missiles can hit targets more than 150 km away, an increase from the 80 km range of rockets fired by Himars systems, which changed the face of the war when Washington sent them last summer.
This would mean that every inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine, plus most of the Crimean peninsula, could soon be within range of Ukrainian forces, forcing Moscow to move some ammunition and fuel storage sites to Russia itself.
Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhilo Podolyak said that negotiations on the supply of long-range missiles are underway, along with negotiations on attack aircraft. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the arrival of long-range US weapons would cause an escalation in the conflict.
The expected US announcement comes a week after Western countries promised dozens of advanced war tanks for the first time, a breakthrough in support aimed at giving Kiev the ability to recapture occupied territory this year.
But the arrival of the new weapons is still months away, and meanwhile Russia has been gaining strength on the battlefield for the first time since mid-2022, in brutal winter fighting that both sides describe as a meat grinder.
Moscow has announced advances north and south of the city of Bakhmut in recent days, its main target for months. Kiev disputes many of these claims and Reuters could not independently verify the precise situation, but the locations of the reported clashes indicate incremental Russian advances.
Troops were fighting from building to building in Bakhmut for gains of only 100 meters a night, and the city was under constant Russian bombardment, a soldier from a Ukrainian unit of Belarusian volunteers told Reuters from inside the city. Russian forces were maneuvering to try to surround it.
Ukraine’s General Staff said on Tuesday night that its forces came under attack in Bakhmut and the villages of Klishchiivka and Kurdyumivka on their southern approaches.
South of Bakhmut, Russia also launched a major new offensive this week in Vuhledar, a former Ukrainian-controlled stronghold at the junction of the southern and eastern front lines. Kiev says that so far its forces have held there.